View of Costa Brava's sea village of Cadaqués, home of Salvador Dalí.
Girona in Catalonia, Spain
Beautiful in any Language
Call it Catalunya, Catalonia or Cataluña, in any language, this region of over seven million is just as varied as its spellings. Bordering France to the North, the region of Aragon to the West, Valencia to the south and the glistening Mediterranean sea to the east, the Catalonian region is comprised of four provinces, each with its own allure.
If starting in Madrid, take the high-speed AVE just over two and one half hours to Barcelona, the undeniable capital of Catalunya. Known for surreal Gaudi architecture including the still unfinished Sagrada Familia, the rambling, raucous Las Ramblas and its dark, mysterious Gothic Quarter, Barcelona has become one of Europe's most dynamic, demonstrative cities.
Just an hour away, Tarragona is the first, large seaside town south of Barcelona. If you have just a day, the beaches here offer the standard Spanish plazas dotted with tapas bars and cafes. The jewel of Tarragona is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tarraco – a complex of Roman ruins and an incredible coliseum. And throughout the town, you'll find both Latin and Phoenician inscriptions in stone on some of the houses.
Heading east from Barcelona, travel by rail up the Costa Brava to Girona, another Catalonian province. The old town stands on the steep hill of the Capuchins to the west of the river. The ancient cathedral here is one of the best examples of Spanish Gothic architecture and it's pointed stone vault is the widest in Christendom at over 60 feet.
The old fortifications are another popular sight. Historically, these have played a vital role in protecting Girona from invaders for hundreds of years. The walls and lookout towers that make up these fortifications are split in two - a small section in the north of the old town and a much larger section in the south. It is possible to walk the entire length of the walls and climb the towers for panoramic views of the region.
The beaches of the Costa Brava are the real draw. What began as a "designated tourist area" by the government in the 1950s, the coast became known as the package-tour destination of sun, sand and sangria. But look a little deeper and find the true "rugged" coast.
The town of Sant Feliu de Guixols still relies on fishing – not tourism – as income. You'll find beautiful architecture and restaurants serving the daily catch. Pals has a historic center on a hill surrounded by plains with its medieval, Romanesque "Tower of the Hours." Begur beckons tourists with its high style and medieval castle.
Perhaps the most famous small town is the tiny fishing village of Cadaqués. With its sun drenched vistas turning the sky into myriad colors, it's no wonder Salvador Dali spent his summers here cultivating his dreamlike canvases.
With your Eurail Spain Pass, easily see much of Catalunya (or however you want to pronounce it.) Where your Spanish dictionary won't do you much good, the warm sunshine beats down on the rugged coast and artists come to dream in color.